Announcing the 2020 Insider Prize Winners

Announcing the 2020 Insider Prize Winners

This post is co-published with American Short Fiction.

For the last three years, the Austin-based magazine American Short Fiction has sponsored a contest for incarcerated writers in Texas. A group of writers at the Connally Unit, in Kenedy, Texas, came up with the name: The Insider Prize. Each year we get dozens of essays and short stories from men and women in prisons and jails across the state, some handwritten and others produced on typewriters. They tell stories about their lives before prison, about the conditions inside, and about the many places their imaginations take them.

This year’s award is marked, like so much in our world these days, by tragedy.

Back in April, as we prepared to share the good news with the winners and finalists, we learned that finalist Timothy Bazrowx had died at a prison hospital after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 63. As the virus continues to rip through shockingly ill-prepared prisons and jails, the men and women inside remain especially vulnerable. Bazrowx knew this—he wrote to one correspondent that in prison, “sickness runs like a crazy horse through a flower bed.”

Through three books and countless shorter pieces, Bazrowx had cultivated an incisive, vivid, and frequently hilarious style, which he didn’t abandon even as his home became a deathtrap. As the virus spread in his prison, officers threatened to punish his peers for going shirtless in a common area. “The world is dying and these bastards want us to be fully dressed to see it happen,” he wrote. “Geewiz.”

It is with his unique spirit, of smiling while speaking truth to power, of finding joy in the face of horrors both natural and manmade, that we present this year’s winners, along with Bazrowx’s own submission.

The winners were selected by guest judge Justin Torres, whose award-winning 2011 novel We the Animals has proven popular among writers behind bars.

In the fiction category, Torres selected “That Place on Daniel Island” by F.R. Martinez. Martinez also won in the fiction category last year, when Joyce Carol Oates selected his story “Mother’s Son.” This new piece is told entirely in dialogue, and Torres wrote that it “feels so alive, to not just the syntax and rhythms of everyday speech, but also to the very need for dialogue itself. Talking is a way to both dig up trouble, and put it to rest. The two characters are talking from two very different sides of a shared experiences—marriage, incarceration—and the effect is quite moving.”

In the memoir category, Torres selected “The Promise” by Steven Perez. “What I loved most about this piece,” Torres wrote, is “that the story moves beyond the narrative of the gruesome attack that serves as the inciting incident to raise important questions about witnessing, responsibility, codes of conduct, failed guardianship—all the systemic issues that foster and allow for prison violence. It is tremendously well written.”

The memoir runner-up this year was “My Time Paradox,” by Jacob Jills, which Torres called a “real achievement in prose style” that “provoked an eerie claustrophobic feeling while reading.” The fiction runner-up this year was “Classic Rock,” by John Rodgers, which Torres called “troubling, funny, and hazed with a kind of dreamlike nostalgia.”

We hope you enjoy this year’s winners.

—Maurice Chammah & Emily Chammah

That Place on Daniel Island

By F.R. Martinez

So I said to her ‘Let’s go to that place over on Daniel Island where we used to go.’ And she said ‘What place?’ I said ‘You know, that place that was kinda like a beach bar or something.’ ‘Beach bar? I don’t know what you’re talking about. You mean the bagel place? The one that had the everything bagels?’ ‘No, no. Well— is that still there? We used to go there.’ ‘They only open for breakfast and lunch. Not dinner.’ So I said ‘I mean that place that had the jukebox with that Billy Joel song we like.’ ‘Juke box?’ ‘And there was a bar in the front, even though it was always half empty. They had good burgers.’ ‘You don’t mean the hotel? The restaurant in the hotel where we went with Nick and his wife before they broke up?’ ‘Damn. That must be like twenty years ago. No. Is that still there? I don’t even remember how to get there.’ ‘Well, I’ll drive.’ ‘I sure would like to go to the other place though. I used to think of it when I was down for some reason.’ ‘Really. Were the burgers THAT good?’ ‘No. I mean they were good but—I don’t know I just liked the place because it was so laid back, so peaceful, so—Charleston. I mean, I know there was no beach there on Daniel Island, but when I remembered that place it felt like there shoulda been one nearby, like right down the road or something. It’s hard to explain, but when you’re locked up a place like that just seems like heaven, you know? To be away from everything. . . ’ ‘There’s that other place on Daniel Island over there by where we used to live.’ ‘That’s right. I forgot we lived on the island for a few months when they were building our house.’ ‘Over there in the mall, where the Ross was,’ she said. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘That’s gone now. It’s been gone for like–I don’t know—ten years?’ ‘Ten years—’ ‘You were gone a long time.’ ‘Yeah. I barely recognized that part over there when we come into our neighborhood off the highway. That used to be a Piggly Wiggly over there.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘What happened to the Blimpie’s?’ ‘That’s gone. Been gone.’ ‘I was down a long time, but I bet that place on Daniel Island is still there. Maybe with a different name and a different owner.’ ‘Maybe. But don’t have to go there. There’s lots of new places. There’s one by Folly Beach. I’ve gone there with Tina and Rosemary.’ ‘Rosemary?’ ‘Yeah. She used to work with me at Bosch, remember? She retired before I did.’ ‘I didn’t think you were friends with people from Bosch, I mean except for Dennis.’ ‘Dennis died two or three years ago. I don’t remember exactly when. You know how memory is. I didn’t go to the funeral. It was too sad.’ ‘I remember you told me he died. . . on the phone.’ ‘You’ve been gone a long time, baby.’ ‘I feel like Rip Van Winkle. I used to hear people in prison talk about their lives outside. I’m talking about people with fifteen and twenty year sentences. They had a long way to go, and they’d just started. I used to wanna say to them: listen, forget that life, man. It’s over. But I did it too, talked about my life, you know, with you and the kids here. But that was at first. After a couple of years, I stopped that. I didn’t talk to anybody. What for? People left. Or they got transferred to other prisons. Or they died. What was the use of trying to make friends, to get close to anybody.’ ‘You used to talk to me on the phone about your ‘friends.’’ ‘That was nothing. Just people I met. People to hang out and bullshit with, people to bitch about the conditions and whatever was going on. There’s no real friendship in there. The place is like a bus station, or an airport. Anyway, it’s illegal to contact other ‘felons.’’ ‘Is that what you are now? A felon?’ ‘No. I’m still me. I’m still the same guy you married.’ ‘No. You’ve changed.’ ‘You’ve changed, too. I mean, c’mon, thirteen years. I swear. I thought I was gonna die in there. I had one celli who was a psycho, another one was a drug addict, another one almost killed me with B.O. Another was a pest, always begging for attention, bugging me with his problems. And then you had that stroke. I thought you were gonna die. The kids wouldn’t answer their phones.’ ‘I know. That must’ve been terrible.’ ‘More terrible than you think. I thought I’d have nobody left when I got out, you know? And then I used to think you didn’t forgive me—for what I did.’ ‘I was angry. I still am. You fucked up our lives.’ ‘I think you need to put some of the blame for that on the wonderful government.’ ‘No. I put it on you. What you did was wrong.’ ‘Not thirteen years worth of wrong! For God’s sake! I didn’t kill anybody!’ ‘You should have known better.’ ‘How could I? It’s not like they tell people what kind of sentences they’re giving out.’ ‘You should’ve known. Somebody smart like you should’ve known. What you were doing. . . didn’t you ever think there were consequences?’ ‘Okay. Right. Whatever. I just felt like all of you just let me rot in there. That if I died no one would care. I mean sometimes it was months before I heard from any of you.’ ‘You think it was easy for us? Paying the bills, keeping things running, ignoring all the people that kept telling me I should divorce you, that you were no good. It was no picnic, all right?’ So I said to her ‘Okay. Well. . . can we go to that place on Daniel Island? It was nice there. I remember we used to drink Coronas under one of the umbrellas in the tables on the patio.’ She was quiet for a minute, and then she said ‘Oh! THAT place. The one with the patio furniture outside.’ ‘Yeah! That’s it!’ ‘It closed down. About six years ago.’

The Promise

By Steven Perez

Two days ago, ATX, a five-foot-two pallid Hispanic prisoner on our cell block in his mid- to late-twenties, got his throat slit with a razor from ear to ear. I was at the law library when it happened. I came back, and the officers were locking us all up in our cells while three prisoner janitors mopped blood off the floor. The bright sun and the smell of fresh air seemed miles behind me.

ATX had had a fistfight in the dayroom with Bubba, a fifty-sevenish bald-headed five-foot-seven clean shaven Black man with another thirty years in prison, before I left to the law library. I caught the end of that fight when I came back to the cell block after lunch.

Seeing Bubba exchange punches with ATX puzzled me because since I had moved in to the cell block two weeks before, Bubba had been polite, helpful, and respectable. He would life coach some of the men on the cell block. He was also an expert tailor. He had recently hemmed up my visitation pants. And I had been helping him identify some legal problems he had with his conviction. He complained about misidentification. I had written down some case citations for him so he could look into them.

ATX had only been on the cell block for about four days, but he too had been laid back and respectable. He and Bobby, who lived two cells down from ATX, had been exchanging ideas about God and the Bible.

The Hispanic and Black gang members in the dayroom (Tango Blast, Bloods, and Crips) were unsettled. There’s an unwritten G-Code on this building that the youngsters do not fight with older prisoners. ATX was violating that code. Bubba and ATX had had some kind of falling out in line in the chow hall. Bubba had accidentally bumped into ATX. ATX said, “You must think I’m some kinda ho!”

Bubba’s from the old school. He spent years in lockup for killing one of his cell mates. He couldn’t overlook ATX’s hostility.

ATX said, “If you fucked up about it, we can get under the TV and get that.” So they fought under the  TV, and ATX got a good hit in and busted Bubba’s lip. After the fight, ATX kept bringing the issue up to other men on the cell block out loud. In doing so, he kept the fire burning. For the next three hours, Bubba told the men he was close to that he wanted to cut ATX.

Those men tried over and over to talk Bubba out of it. Bubba wouldn’t listen. His mind was set. To make matters worse, with Bubba’s old school penitentiary mentality comes the idea that once you say you’re gonna do something , it’s like making  a promise. And you gotta follow through with it. You gotta keep your word. Even if it doesn’t make any sense. Even on some shit like this. Nevermind the fact that Bubba’s sister was talking to him about hiring a parole lawyer for him. That’s the old school penitentiary mentality. That’s what this system does to you.

Twenty years in prison is enough for a man to learn his lesson. Anything after that pushes you to the limit. The point of no return. If you’re not strong enough mentally, physically, and emotionally, the system turns you into a fully programmed machine. Bubba had reached that point.

These days, no one expects you to keep that kind of promise. Instead, they try to talk you out of it. The younger generation of experienced prisoners have to counsel the older, more experienced, more traumatized lifers. We have to carry the burden of trying to talk these men out of keeping those kinds of promises.

My neighbor Rudy was sitting next to ATX on the bench. Rudy told ATX, “Watch out because that old school’s gonna try to shank you.” ATX didn’t listen. He fell asleep on the bench while sitting down in front of the TV in the dayroom. Bubba snuck up behind ATX and slit his throat ear to ear.

ATX stood up and started walking around the dayroom talking shit. “I’m ready to die in here!” Blood leaked out of his neck and soaked into his white T-shirt. The gash on his Adam’s apple was wide enough and deep enough to stick the tip of your pinky into all the way past your pinky nail. “Somebody give me a blade!” No one did.

Yesterday, after Rudy and I finished working out, we got into a conversation under the stairs of the cell block about what happened. Me, Rudy, and Bobby. Rudy stands six-foot-one. He’s lanky, but physically fit. A Hispanic thug out of San Antonio who recently told me that he used to inject into his veins a half an ounce of meth every day before he came to prison. He’s thirty years old. He has the San Antonio Spur emblem in the middle of his chest with Aztec Indian art all over the rest of his upper back. He will discharge a four-year sentence in eight months, and he complains that his lawyer fucked him over. His modus operandi is car theft rings.

Bobby is a five-foot-three white boy in his early forties with the body of a middleweight weight lifter. He’s got fifteen years in on a ninety-nine-year sentence for bank robbery. His brother-in-law testified against him at his trial. He’s a recent revert to Christianity and a recovering alcoholic with salt and pepper hair. His sister and two of his nieces were shot and killed in the mass church shooting at the baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017. His nephew was shot five times and lived. The oldest at the church that day, his ten-year-old niece looked into the eyes of the killer and lived without a single gunshot wound. He told me yesterday that when his sister and the kids got shot, his sister covered his nieces with her body to protect them. He said, “She tried to cover their mouths so they wouldn’t make any noise. My sister was bigger than me. She wasn’t huge, but she was big boned.”

Me, I’m forty-one years old. Chicano brown skin. Thirteen years in on a sixty-year sentence with a murder conviction under the law of parties.

Rudy was sitting on the bottom flight of the stairs. He said he saw Bubba coming. He got up from the bench and shied away. He said, “I got up and left.” He cracked a slight smile. He had a shadow of guilt in his eyes. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.

Bobby’s lips took the shape of a seagull in the distant sky back home in Corpus Christi, at the beach on North Padre Island. I saw parentheses at each end of his lips. His eyelids formed a straight line and almost halfway shut. His eyebrows curved up toward each other. He looked at Rudy with disappointment. Bobby said, ‘How would you like it if I got up and left you there to get your throat slit?”

Rudy said, “I told him to watch out. And what did he do? He went to sleep. Shit, Old School could’ve cut me! If I’d have got in, it would’ve started all kinds of shit. He shouldn’t have been fighting with that old school. And he should’ve listened to me when I warned him.”

I said, “He should’ve stayed in the cell. He was already in there. He shouldn’t have come back out.”

Bobby said, “I thought about trying to make peace between them. We all ate on the same table at chow. But Bubba was already with that mindset. He probably would have come after me. You saw the way he got after his own people for trying to get involved. I could’ve said something or tried to do something to prevent it.” He told us that Bubba had big-faced ATX in the chow hall. He concluded that he and Rudy had cowered by not intervening.

Unsure of what to say, I took a deep breath and rubbed my head. I looked down at my brown skin; at my threadbare tennis shoes; at the snake and dragon wrapped around my leg that I paid a thousand dollars for twenty years ago during the cocaine-dealing chapter of my life, at Axis Tattoo shop, in downtown Corpus Christi across from the Greyhound bus station, before U.S. District Judge Janice Graham Jack sent me to federal prison, where I lost my wife Iris to cocaine, meth, xanax, and other men. I can still hear her in 2001, eighteen years ago, behind limo tint, singing to me in the passenger seat of the red Grand Am I bought her while I drove through palm trees past the million-dollar mansions on Ocean Drive on the way to our house with the sparkling salt water bay to our left. Serenity, our then one-year-old baby girl, our pageant prize and trophy winner, sat in the middle of the back seat in her car sucking on the nipple of an empty Enfamil bottle. I can still see Serenity’s long eyelashes curling up and her black button eyes, blinking. I can feel Iris’s smooth milky skin at my fingertips; her long reddish brown hair in between my fingers. I can still hear her sober million-dollar voice in my head. The only woman who’s ever called me handsome. “How will I live without you?” The song from Con Air. Her voice echoes in my memories. I remember thinking, My life is complete.

Bobby said, “We’re supposed to stop things like that from happening.”

Rudy said, “Fuck that!”

I said, “We gotta be prudent in what we do. It’s like being in a war. We gotta get out of here alive.”

Later on, I reflected on the conversation. I thought, It’s like a war in many respects. But not all. ATX was not a fellow soldier. We didn’t even know him. And he violated too many prison principles. But does that make him less human? Does that make him deserving of death? We gotta make sure that we get out of here alive. That’s a duty we owe our families and ourselves. If you were there, what would you have done? And don’t tell me you’d have told the officers. You don’t do that in prison. If you do, then you might be the one getting your throat slit. Besides, the officers want us to kill each other. Not all of them are like that, but it always seems like the worst ones are around at the worst times. They won’t do anything for us until the deed is done. Then they’ll throw it in our faces as if we proved them right.

Weeks later while I sat in my cell thinking about how to end this story, I thought about promises. How promises are so easily broken. I remembered being in federal prison and promising myself that I’d never come back to prison. I was released. Yet here I sit. I write. Some promises you just don’t keep.

When Ponies Rule

By Timothy D.V. Bazrowx

Back in the age of the dinosaurs, which most consider around 1964 in some folks’ eyes:

My family and I lived in a small town called China, Texas. We had a huge rice farm/ranch operation with an average cattle count of fifteen-hundred head. We also had our cow horses (around twenty) and two Shetland ponies.

I was, at the time, around eight years old. My brother was eleven months younger than myself.

In my family, there were six kids, and at this time of year, in the dog-days of summer, us kids were not in school and pretty much had to make our own adventures manifest.

Mom had a new baby,another girl, and now there were four of them, with just the two boys, so the girls pretty much stayed in the house playing with Barbie dolls that had broken knees, for I couldn’t figure out how they worked. So, to make a long story short, my brother and I were pretty much exiled to the outside of the house to keep the peace. Besides, mom breast-fed, and we certainly didn’t want to see that; it was better this way because we got to play with our many dogs, and we killed water moccasins, which were in abundance because of the small rice field we had by the house. So my brother and I were guards of the ole homestead,terrors incarnate in the bodies of two rambunctious small boys.n other words, we were normal, mischievously under-supervised little boys doing what we considered fun.

My stepfather worked the big fields, and we had some chores that took place mainly if we were being watched closely, or if it had to do with our horses. We liked our horses.

We liked going out into the next pasture. Our house was surrounded on three sides with pastures, and rice fields.

The horses, or most of them, liked it when we went there. A couple of them always got special treatment. Blaze was my regular riding horse. A standard quarterhorse mare with a white face and white socks, roan in color, a lustrous red, she knew that when she saw me, she was in for a good curry-combin’ and brushing, along with the sugarcubes that we gave those horses that would come to us.

Most were on to us. We went in the pasture with an empty bucket making them think we had sweet oats for them. When they got fooled a few times, only the sugar-addicted horses would stay for their rewards of sugarcubes, and yes, sweet oats, for my brother and I liked playing tricks on the horses. We only wanted to curry-comb the horses that liked us.

Of course, we made sure the water trough was filled. Playing with water in the hot summer days was fine with us, and when we got wet, who cared? That was our job.

Now the bigger horses were fun to mess with, but it was rare that we could saddle or ride one of the cow ponies without the help of our stepfather. Even though we rode them a lot, they weren’t kid horses, and when the saddles came out, it was work time for them, and they knew this. We did ride bareback at times, but this story isn’t about that.

We had two Shetland ponies, which this story is about, for they were the kid horses. They were for the girls, but we rode them more than anyone.

SugarBee was one of the most genial of creatures, and very tolerant of us. We liked her, she never tried to bite us. She liked sugarcubes, and to be combed as well as saddled and rode.

I don’t know where she came from, but she was such a sweetheart that even with two miscreants around her, her disposition rubbed off on us, and we always gave her special attention.

Frisky, though, was another matter. Frisky was an uncastrated cattle stud with a painted hide. He could have almost been an Indian Pony had his legs been longer. What he didn’t have in height, he had in malignity.

He would bite, he would kick, and step on feet with sharp little hooves as well as buck you off. . .if you could get on him that is. He was won by our neighbor during a raffle at a Catholic church fundraiser. When our neighbor came over to our place and just gave this critter to us to be rid of it, we knew that there had to be a good reason. I had to ear-hustle his conversation with my stepfather.

The neighbor was explaining how mean this pony was. He was also telling him that this horse didn’t like the sulky wagon, which basically is a seat with two wheels in it. You see harness racing with these wagons.

It seems Frisky waited for our neighbor to hook up this wagon, then, after he got in, the pony went into “stupid-gear” when the reins were snapped over his back. Frisky went to kicking, and bucking as well as snapping like a mad Chihuahua, then kicking the buggy until the neighbor fell off. The pony then kicked the light-weight wagon over his head, then backed out of the harness. He ran down old Highway 90, causing a cussing, winded foot race with the neighbor. Frisky now became ours, and with rascally glee I ran to tell my brother the good news.

Time would go on, and the summer dragged on. We had got Frisky in the spring, and got him used to us. I even rode him bareback, and was bit a couple of times, as well as had my toe stepped on, but he would come to us readily enough.

We kept these horses in the small field with the horse barn that had hundreds of mesquite and Chinaberry trees — which by the way, is where China, Texas gets its name.

One morning before it got too hot, my brother and I, like each day during the summer, were off and running full tilt into our shenanigans.

Being met at our front door by our mismatched pack of dogs (somewhere around fifteen  of them) we headed off to the horse field.

Dogs were running all around, chasing rabbits, and finding snakes and killing them. My brother and I were just accepted members of the pack.

We went into the horse pasture, grabbed the bucket, and were able to get SugarBee to us, then Blaze, but the others weren’t falling for these two human pups’ tricks. It made us no difference, because we were just out and about trying to stay away from the stupid girls that always wanted to dress us up in dresses. No sir, we was off and running because both my brother and I knew to get caught by that female horde might mean my other ear was getting a needle driven through it. It was safer out with the snakes, nutria rats, gators, horses, and such.

When we had finished messing with SugarBee and Blaze, we saw Frisky wandering slowly toward us. I had a couple of sugarcubes left, so when he got to us we were able to comb him, which he liked, and he smelled the sweet oak bucket, but we hadn’t gotten that far yet.

Now horses aren’t known for their proper etiquette, so while we were treating this mean little fart with kindness, he of all things decided to pee on us. He just flowed the ole whiz-wand out and peed like a racehorse on us, causing it to splash all over both my and my brother’s feet and legs.

“Oh no you didn’t!”

Yes he did, and now my brother and I backed away from the flash flood this guy caused.

Oh yeah, the horns came out on both my brother’s and my head. In fields like this what we called crawdad holes were everywhere. Small towers of hard mud-balls that crayfish have erected were everywhere, and ready ammo for two pissed off, and pissed on, boys.

We, of course, started throwing these things at the pony. I know it was wrong, but being seven and eight years old in 1964, we didn’t care, for retribution was at hand.

The pony must have held all that water through the night just for us. He continued on while we threw small clods of mud at him surely aiming for the offending member.

What we didn’t see was that menacing look and evil,what looked like a smile I later remember seeing; which, come to think of it, looked more like a snarl.

With his ears laying back now, as we got closer to throw these mud clods, that little fart’s back feet started flying up. He kicked me in the arm, throwing me to the ground.

My brother was close to a barbed wire fence, and he got kicked over and over as he went under the fence. I jumped up, and found an old rotten stick, then whacked him, breaking the stick. He then started chasing me with blood in his eyes, kicking and snapping at my butt with those sharp horse teeth while I tried to find a faster gear to get in.

My brother chased after the horse, or Shetland pony, which is what he was. He grabbed the tail, getting another kick in the leg, while the horse spun around, I yelled for my brother to climb a Chinaberry tree that was close by. I also headed for our ethereal heaven.

This heathenish fiend saw both my brother and I was out of reach now, so he started cropping grass under the tree. My brother and I could just look at each other and laugh.

Oh no, it wasn’t over though. Each time the horse edged away, we would try to sneak down the tree, and Frisky would lay his ears back, then start bucking, and running back and forth under the tree, thus keeping us stranded up that Chinaberry tree for at least two hours, until he finally wandered away. We got down and ran out of the pasture. I wanted to get even with him for doing that to us, but he had got our attention.

We never threw dirt clods at him again, and we seemed to have some deep rooted respect for each other. I would ride him, and he would bite me, or step on my foot, and I’d push him off, limp a little, then get on. I kept a small switch handy.

We would leave a year or so later because Mom was looking for another life. She took us with her, but I’ll never forget when that wild pony ruled the day.

Bios:

Cuban-born writer and composer F.R. Martinez immigrated to the U.S. as a result of the Cuban Revolution. He grew up in Miami then moved to New York City to attend the Juilliard School where he studied with David Diamond and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree. He went on to compose music for film, television, radio, and theater. He is the recipient of two Emmys (in conjunction with the writing team at Children’s Television Workshop, currently Sesame Workshop), and a Grammy for the Sesame Street album Elmopalooza in 1998, on which his song “Mambo I, I, I” is performed by Gloria Estefan. He worked with several other notables such as Cindy Lauper, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Trini Lopez, and various Latino music stars of the late twentieth century. In 1998, along with writer Luis Santeiro, he was the recipient of the Richard Rodgers Award offered by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, for the musical Barrio Babies. He worked for Disney on the show “Handy Manny” as a composer, completing background music and songs for 100 shows. “Handy Manny” was also nominated for an Emmy in 2009. With the Charleston Symphony Orchestra he worked on various projects including one for Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish fame. He’s been creating poetry and fiction since the age of twelve and has only returned to a more serious involvement with writing in recent years. In 2016, his poem “300 Min” received an Honorable Mention from PEN AMERICA. In the past five years, he has completed over a hundred poems and five novels as well as a number of short stories. He is looking to publish more fiction and poetry and would be grateful for sample copies of literary journals and submission guidelines. For his mailing address please contact insiderprize[at]americanshortfiction.org.

Steven Reynaldo Perez was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, on July 5, 1978. He is a member of the EPen City Writers inside team at the John B. Connally state prison in Kenedy, Texas, which was established and is led and taught by author Deb Olin Unferth of the University of Texas at Austin. Steven is a self-taught paralegal; a staunch prisoner advocate against unlawful convictions and sentences and mass incarceration; and an avid defender of prisoner rights. In 2019, he earned a creative writing fellowship from the U.T. Austin English Department. He is in his 14th year of a 60-year sentence.

Timothy Bazrowx grew up in China, Texas, and his writing about life in prison and out was published by The Marshall Project, Prisons Foundation, and Uncaptive Voices. In April 2020, he died due to complications from COVID-19.

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